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"There is a very powerful dissent that is now coming to the forefront among career employees" in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Richard Ricciardi/flickr/cc)

In Show of Internal Dissent, Federal Workers Rising Up Against Trump

Nearly 200 federal employees are reportedly set to attend an upcoming workshop on workers' rights and civil disobedience

Deirdre Fulton

From the 1,000 State Department officials rushing to sign an official dissent cable, to the 180 federal workers signing up for a workshop on civil disobedience, to the dozens of "rogue" agency Twitter accounts that have sprouted up in the last week, internal resistance to the right-wing Trump agenda is rivaling the power of people on the streets—perhaps not in numbers, but in energy and creativity.

In fact, according to the Washington Post, which reported on various strains of internal opposition on Tuesday, this "resistance from within" may be "potentially more troublesome to the administration" than airport protests or call-in campaigns. 

"The resistance is so early, so widespread, and so deeply felt that it has officials worrying about paralysis and overt refusals by workers to do their jobs," wrote Post reporters Juliet Eilperin, Lisa Rein, and Marc Fisher.

And it is unique to this moment in history.

"I don't recall any kind of dissent like this happening either in a Democratic or Republican administration—this is clearly unusual," Chris Lu, the former deputy secretary of Labor in the Obama administration, told The Hill on Wednesday. "There is a very powerful dissent that is now coming to the forefront among career employees. It's unusual in my experience to have this, but we are dealing with an unusual president."

A president who, among his first orders of business, put a freeze on federal hiring. "Now," Politico reported at the time, "the president is about to find out how much power these maligned workers have to slow or even short-circuit his agenda."

"Disgruntled employees can leak information to Capitol Hill and the press, and prod inspectors general to probe political appointees," the outlet wrote. "They can also use the tools of bureaucracy to slow or sandbag policy proposals—moves that can overtly, or passive aggressively, unravel a White House's best-laid plans."

What's more, Lu said to The Hill, the administration's pushback on such resistance—such as Trump's firing of Acting Attorney General Sally Yates on Monday night, or press secretary Sean Spicer's threat this week that those State Department employees who are unhappy with the executive order on immigration "should either get with the program or they can go"—is likely to further catalyze protest from federal workers.

"It's not helpful for the president or his spokespeople to be attacking them," Lu said. "I don't think this will chill them. I think this is going to embolden career civil servants."

Indeed, "policy dissent is in our culture," one diplomat in Africa, who signed the dissent cable, told the New York Times. "We even have awards for it."

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